ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Passing or blocking a bill is something state lawmakers usually cannot do on their own. One way of ensuring support is to form coalitions with other lawmakers who share similar political values and goals.
The process of forming a coalition can be a secret popularity contest where lawmakers meet behind closed doors to assign key committee and leadership positions that can make or break some lawmakers' careers.
“Can it be messy? Yeah, it can be. I've seen ones that went together pretty easily and then I've seen ones that have taken quite a while to put together because of differences of opinion and so on,” said State Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.
Last weekend's closed-door house majority meeting did not go as smoothly as some had hoped.
Well-known Republicans Charrise Millet and Kyle Johansen reportedly left the caucus meeting unhappy.
“Without really getting into specifics, they couldn't really receive the jobs that they wanted and so they elected to leave the caucus,” Chenault said.
Chenault will continue his role of speaker in the next session. Rep. Alan Austerman will become majority leader and Rep. Craig Johnson will be rules chair.
The minority, the smaller, typically weaker political force comprised of Democrats, once again, chose Rep. Beth Kerttula as its leader. Rep. Berta Gardner will be the minority whip, basically second in command.
“We've always been a strong block. Most of us have been together for quite a long time or have known each other for a long time, so it's sort of like a great big family,” said Kerttula.
Over on the State Senate side, Sen. Charlie Huggins, the current rules chair, is out of the majority. Sources say he wanted to be senate president.
Huggins says he was asked to be majority leader, but declined and left for the minority.
Also in the minority is newcomer Cathy Giessel, the winner of the Hillside Senate race.
“It doesn't matter which coalition I fall within. In fact, I view myself in the perfect position. I'm free to vote on the budget as I believe is in the best interest of my district and the state of Alaska,” said Giessel.
With the coalitions now set, lawmakers must find a way to balance the interests of their constituents with each other's needs.
Expect the first batch of new bills to come out on January 7, then another set a week later.
The legislative session starts January 18.